By Barney Blakeney
Since the February 14 mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, students across America have staged protests calling for changes that would protect them from further gun violence. I asked two local veterans in law enforcement their thoughts. As conversations that include gun control and who best can protect students dominate the discussion the law enforcement veterans I spoke with say addressing issues outside schools may have as much impact as those that involve any action on school grounds.
A veteran lawman who asked not to be named in this story said the violence we’re seeing at schools is an extension of the violence in our communities. Troubled students who take guns into schools are one manifestation of a heavily armed society, he said. By some estimates, while there are about 300 million people in the United States, there are some 245 million guns. With all those weapons, it’s no surprise many are turning up at our schools, he said. Bullying and gang activities are among the reasons some of those guns are showing up, he said.
Guns make it onto school campuses because they are pervasive in our community – everybody’s carrying weapons, the lawman said. About 325,000 individuals legally are permitted to carry firearms in South Carolina. Counting those who illegally carry firearms, more individuals are carrying guns than the average citizen might suspect, he said. The presence of assault weapons in school violence increase the death count in such attacks, but the number of deaths that occur in street violence far outpaces that in school violence.
To effectively address the threat of gun violence at schools, we first must address gun violence that occurs in the surrounding communities, he said. Many of our children are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) stemming from the violent environments in which they live.
“We can’t look at gun violence in schools in isolation. We have to consider the environment that produces those situations. We have to look at crime, our dropout rate, employment and mental health or nothing will change,” the lawman said.
One news source noted, “student protests have triggered a moral panic about the safety of America’s schools that has little basis in empirical reality — and which is already lending momentum to policies that would increase juvenile incarceration, waste precious educational resources on security, and bring more guns into our nation’s classrooms.”
Charleston County Sheriff Office Public Information Officer Capt. Roger Antonio was interested in the numbers as well. He noted there have been no mass school shootings locally, though the number of homicides that result from gun violence increases every year. He also noted the scenarios between the two violent events also produce different results. In school mass shootings, the objective usually is to kill or injure as many victims are possible. In street gun violence, there are intended victims, but the inexperience and lack of training of the shooters usually produce unintended victims who become collateral damage.
Like his law enforcement colleague, Antonio said while gun violence at schools gets more attention, street violence produces more victims. But in both scenarios, the consequences are tallied in the lives of human beings, he said.